RDCK forwards ex-MLA’s housing request to Ag Land Commission

·5 min read

A former NDP cabinet minister is going to get a chance to argue his case for a second residence on his farm to the Agricultural Land Commission.

Corky Evans was given approval to forward his application to the commission to build a tiny home on his Slocan River Road farm, so he can continue to live there and let his family take over operation of the property.

The Regional District of Central Kootenay’s Rural Affairs Committee approved the application on March 17, going against recommendations by their own staff to reject the proposal. Evans will now have his case put to the Agricultural Land Commission for a final decision.

Evans and his partner, Helen Sebelius, have worked the two-hectare property on the Slocan River Road near Winlaw for nearly 50 years, most intensely in the last decade. Crops include blueberries, flowers, garlic, potatoes, corn and squash, with the lands also being used for pasture. But now, at age 72, it’s getting to be a bit too much.

“As we age, we have had to reduce our production to compensate for our energy levels, but we don’t wish to move or watch what we built fall apart,” the former RDCK director, MLA and cabinet minister told the Rural Affairs Committee on March 17. “We have been a good influence I think on encouraging farming in this region… we now have the opportunity to transition the farm in this family and teach the next generation how to manage the land and the crops.”

Evans and Sibelius want to sell the farm to Sibelius’ daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, keeping the property in the family.

“The labour is intense, so we are looking for help and support to keep the farm going to carry on what we have been able to build in the last decade plus couple of years,” said Sibelius.

The tiny home Evans and Sibelius plan would be located on an old greenhouse foundation, so no more agricultural land would be lost by the development.

Evans said he was feeling optimistic about his application’s chances, as the government is becoming more aware of the contradictions between the need to protect agricultural land and the need for farmers to prepare for generational transition.

“I believe… it is quite possible the government will give direction or the Land Commission will engage independently to begin perhaps to address the contradictions in the legislation and the changes over time,” said Evans. “Helen and I have made this application in the moment in the hopes that our application will help them engage in that dialogue.

“That’s what were asking you folks: send it on, and let them struggle with the need for change.”

Some directors said they hoped that message would be passed on to the Commission from regional governments everywhere.

“Hand it back to the ALR, make them make the decision,” said Director Leah Main. “Make them develop appropriate policy instead of us taking that job once again, which is not supposed to really be our realm.”

Other area directors also voiced support during the hearing.

“I’m supporting this because of the direction I’d like to see Slocan Valley take towards farming,” said Area H Director Walter Popoff.

“It is hard to sustain a comfortable livelihood from a small family farm,” he added. “…In this particular case, the applicant has provided a viable succession plan for continued use of the ALR land for farming with the addition of an accessory residence for the retiring elderly owners that will still live on the property and will provide farming guidance to their younger family.”

Staff opposed

But not everyone was on board.

“Notwithstanding the age of the landowners, the current amount of agricultural production is unlikely to require a large amount of labour,” wrote a skeptical Ministry of Agriculture in a requested opinion. “…While the occupants of the additional residence intend to assist the landowners with the operation of the farm, it appears that the additional residence is primarily being requested for aging-in-place reasons as opposed to farm-use reasons.”

And RDCK Planning staff also opposed allowing the application to proceed.

While planning officials were sympathetic to the aging-in-place argument, they noted that “[r]elevant policies under the RDCK’s Agricultural Area Plan and Agriculture Land Use Inventory generally do not support intensifying residential uses in agricultural areas.”

They also noted that “given the scale and intensity of the farm operation, staff have concerns that the proposed second dwelling would not be necessary” to support the existing farm operation.

“It is the experience of RDCK Planning staff that additional residences over time are frequently used for rental housing not related to farming, especially if the property is sold in the future…” they warned.

Despite staff misgivings, Evans and Sibelius’ request was approved.

It’s not uncommon for the Rural Affairs Committee to approve applications for second residences. Another was forwarded on to the ALC earlier in the meeting. However, in that case, the landowners had to pledge to tear down their first home when the second was completed.

“Decisions are on a case-by-case basis; as a board we are trying to deal with this as best we can,” said committee chair Adam Casemore.

And cases where the board rejected similar applications in the past had different circumstances, said RDCK CAO Stuart Horn

“The applications that were not supported in previous meetings really focussed on exclusion from the ALR, while this one was a different application, around non-adhering residential use,” he added. “So it is a different application they were putting forward with respect to the one supported today.”

If the couple is successful in convincing the Agricultural Land Commission, they’ll come back to the RDCK for a building permit for their tiny home – letting them spend the rest of their lives in the Slocan Valley.

“We do not wish to be removed from the ALR or to subdivide our land,” Evans told the committee members. “We wish to die here.”

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice